The mayhem begins long before the ride starts. Before you even imagine how it would be -- would you be able to find a seat, would you make it on time, would a pickpocket go home with your phone or would another lost soul jump to his death?
Indeed, the chaos begins not when you cross the faded yellow platform but at a point somewhere beyond six flights of stairs, where a long snaking line of commuters spills over to a portion of Metro Manila's busiest highway, known to some as EDSA, gates of hell to everyone else.
Here, at the foot of MRT's Quezon Avenue station, on pools of mud and water from last night's rain, is where the line to this morning's ride starts.
Commuters -- in high-heeled shoes and chambray jeans; in crisp mini-skirts and torn yellow shorts, long black slacks and cherry red dresses; in worn-out jerseys, too -- keep on coming, braving the madness. Because there is no other way, at least not right now on this God-forsaken hour, when one has to choose between this route and enduring the traffic along EDSA.
Many in the crowd are used to this kind of hell, the rush is part of the daily grind. Others are first timers while some are occasional train riders. Beginners or regulars, the inconvenience is the same -- the crowd is as thick as the Red Sea's waves and a fetid smell of sweat and body scents wafts in the air.
Some I suspect are hungry and sleep deprived while others escape to the comfort of music on their ears.
It is 7:30 in the morning and the heat is scorchingly dry. You begin to think so much time is wasted in the long queue, minutes away from friends and even loved ones, too. But once inside and the train moves, you'll catch a view of the traffic below and you realize that in the hell that you are, you still got a better deal, at least right this hour, when there's a bigger nightmare way down there.
Today, there's all sorts of people on the train, there's a fake blond in blue and white stripes, an old woman in red praying the rosary, a lanky elderly waiting for a seat, a young lass putting on make-up and a big burly guy chewing a gum. There's a man with a Bugs Bunny shirt dozing off to Neverland, and another one holding her girlfriend in her arms.
Everyone gets off at some point, somewhere. Tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, who knows where we'll all be. It's how fleeting life is, as fleeting as a moving train, as surreal as men jumping to their deaths.
Everyone's waiting for their stop, to take a breath of fresh air amidst strange voices on the microphone and the maddening crowd. To walk and to continue home, wherever home may be -- in the arms of men they love, in dirty sheets in borrowed rooms or in the wailing of children left in others' care. Somewhere, somewhere, in this cursed shitty world.
We will step off and mind the gap and struggle to walk toward the rest of our lives.
written in a cramped MRT ride, October 21.